Thursday, August 6, 2009

Baitullah Mehsud dead?

This morning the news reported that one of Mehsud's wives had been killed in a drone strike. As the day went on, intelligence officials apparently became increasingly confident that the Pakistani Taliban leader had been killed as well. The Times reports:
The C.I.A. missile strike in Pakistan’s tribal areason Wednesday may have killed Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the country’s fearsome Taliban militia, American and Pakistani officials said Thursday.

Officials in Washington and Islamabad were scrambling to make sense of intercepted communications that seemed to indicate that Mr. Mehsud might have been killed in the strike, and by Thursday evening American officials said they were growing increasingly confident that the Taliban leader was dead.

Still, they cautioned that it could be weeks before they could be certain, given the difficulty of getting to the remote location in South Waziristan to perform DNA tests.
Andrew Exum wonders what effect Mehsud's death would have on Pakistan's appetite for continued fighting in Waziristan.
But it's my sense that many in Pakistan consider Mehsud to basically be the root of their problems and that taking him out would be the natural end to a campaign against the militants in FATA and the NWFP. So should we worry that the death of Mehsud might, perversely, mean a relaxation of the Pakistani Army's campaign against Pakistan's insurgent groups? Or will this instead fill them with confidence to carry on?
For one thing, the campaign slowed down dramatically after the Swat offensive. We've been hearing for weeks about how the Pakistani Army is preparing for bloody and protracted fighting in Waziristan, and how they were making final preparations for an offensive. As far as I can tell, that hasn't happened yet. There are a lot of bombs being dropped from F-16s, and that's all well and good, but I'm reasonably sure this long-awaited ground offensive has yet to take place. Does that seem more or less likely now if Mehsud is dead? I know my answer.

Islamabad has already demonstrated its indifference to any ideas we may have about seeking Pakistani help interdicting the flow of fighters and/or materiel westward and northward across the Durand Line. In fact, Pakistani officials have even complained about the coalition's Helmland offensive, suggesting that it does nothing to improve the situation and only causes more problems for them. And now we think that the death of their "ace of spades" is going to motivate them to go in and clean out the whole area, the cost of which effort seems to dramatically outweigh the benefit for them?

This isn't North Korea. Pakistan may not do what we like or expect, but that tends to be a problem with our expectations, not their rationality. How long is it going to take us to absorb the simple lesson that the war in Afghanistan, in the final analysis, probably does Pakistan much more good than harm?


  1. Any thoughts on MAJ "Fury"'s strange post on AM?

  2. Any thoughts on MAJ "Fury"'s strange post on AM?

    Yeah, several, but they can be summed up in one line:

    W-T-F-?, over?

    I respect "DF"'s service, and I think his insider account of the Battle of Tora Bora and the early days of the Afghan War is a useful and entertaining contribution. (It's certainly much more valuable than Marcus Luttrell's account of his tragic Afghan experience during Operation Redwing, Lone Survivor. I'll spare you any further comment on that because I simply can't think of anything polite to say, which is a shame because the events he describes were filled with heroism and the very highest virtues of the American fighting man. The book just wasn't very good.)

    That said, tonight's post and the sort of thinking that informs it are the purest tripe. It contributes nothing to our understanding, doesn't make us think, and asks us to take for granted absurd assertions about the nature of the enemy. Simply put, it's a waste of time and space, and perhaps could even be appropriately labeled "war porn."

    As for AM hosting such things, I think it (unfortunately) speaks to the sad decline of that forum from indispensable, go-to, several-times-a-day reading to something approximating a blogospheric train wreck: there may be moments that pleasantly surprise you, but mostly you're watching to see what awful thing is going to happen next.